Chasers Intercept Tornado on Final Day of Storm Season

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As the dark storm core approached our location, its base was full of dynamic motions. But much to our dismay, the supercell seemed to be cycling down once again and we had to bug out to the east or risk being stuck in an intense core.

After several hours of chasing and patience, would our third deployment be charmed?

We placed our two trucks about ten miles (16 kilometers) apart on the only road options available. The storm would hopefully pass somewhere between the two trucks and produce a tornado as it passed.

Our truck was in position and was collecting data as the storm slowly approached from the west.

Stuck in a Ditch

As the other truck was trying to maneuver into position on a dirt road, it inadvertently became stuck in a ditch! While the crew worked feverishly to free their vehicle, we watched as the storm started to look interesting on our radar screen.

Through perseverance and perspiration, the other crew freed their truck just in time to start collecting data at a critical time.

While we anxiously watched the radar screen, the storm started to produce a tornado.

Although the data appeared to be good, the crews were disappointed because the tornado was completely wrapped up in rain and was obscured from vision.

Anxious Moments as Tornado Approached

This also made for some anxious moments since the tornado was approaching our other truck.

We cautiously watched the tornado's Doppler radar signature for any signs of strengthening winds. But since the tornado remained rather weak, we held the crew in position to keep collecting data.

The weak tornado passed just to the north of their site as it died. The storm was done producing tornadoes.

Even though the tornado was weak and short-lived, it was a tornado and we collected dual-Doppler data through its entire life cycle.

The data will take many months to analyze, but they appeared to be good.

For the rest of the evening, we were treated to a beautiful lightning display signifying the close of our season.

It was unfortunate that our research season had to end. Shortly after the DOWs were parked and their data were downloaded, storm activity was reported from the Midwest and Central Plains. Several days of large tornadoes ensued.

Even though our season was over, we were able to direct some IMAX movie film crews to the right locations. The IMAX teams (partially funded by the National Geographic Society) are trying to capture on film the perfect tornado.

They have filmed several tornadoes, but they will be back next year to try to capture their perfect data set.

Herb Stein is a technician with the Doppler on Wheels program at the University of Oklahoma. The program uses mobile Doppler radar trucks that are designed to collect high-resolution data during the full life cycle of a tornado.


Use this National Geographic News article in your classroom with the Xpeditions lesson plan: The Active Earth.

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